Seeing a game made by just two people release on a console as staggeringly popular as the PS4 is something that fills me with a warm feeling. That despite how unwieldy and overblown videogame development can be as a medium, there’s still room at the table for the smaller teams to feast. It helps if the game that team produce is good of course, and in the case of Forma.8, developed by the aforementioned two-person team, it is indeed, for the most part, good..
Forma.8 is a 2D Metroidvania style game created over the past couple of years by Mixed Bag, a two man studio based in Turin,Italy, after initially starting as an experimental concept piece. While the genre isn’t exactly underutilized in the industry, Forma.8 does manage to make it seem fresh in its own way thanks to some fantastic art design, and a surprisingly engaging story.
It all begins simply enough. You are a small probe, sent to an alien planet to catalogue and scan anything of interest/value. Being a videogame, naturally something goes wrong and you crash land and end up stranded on this godforsaken rock. Once our probe hero boots up again, the game proper begins, as does an intriguing mystery that plays as much a part as the game itself in pushing you to explore and progress.
The probe glides around the corridors, nooks, and crannies of this planet looking for a way out by collecting a number of useful tools to open up more and more portions of the overall map.
Forma’s movement is a tricky beast from the off. Being momentum based works for and against your enjoyment, thankfully more of the former than the latter. Environmental and timed puzzles, for instance, are designed with this style of momentum in mind, and they prove to be among the highlights of the game. You have to gently push the thumb sticks just enough to generate movement in one direction without overcompensating and crashing headlong into scenery and/or hazards. It’s very much akin to Pixeljunk Shooter in this regard, albeit a little more varied in gameplay execution. It’s during boss fights that the momentum of your probe can become a challenge and a frustration. From attempting to accurately attack, to trying to escape through tight narrow spaces without being obliterated, Forma.8, in these instances, seesaws between exhilarating and annoying.
Back to the early moments of the game, and you soon find another probe in a state of disrepair, but it has a useful tool for you. This discovery provides your probe with a shield that fends off the violent advances of alien lifeforms with a pulse attack.
Getting hit isn’t instantly fatal, but it does deplete your energy quite swiftly. However, you can regain some by destroying the enemies, as it causes them to drop live-giving orbs. As you progress, you’ll discover newer tools including, boosts and bombs, all of which employ the usual metroidvania tricks to better deal with previously un-impenetrable obstacles, and near-invincible foes. It’s a system that always seems to work, regardless of the game’s quality, but the manner in which Forma.8 ties the exploration into the storytelling makes it a touch more distinct here, if somewhat frustrating.
You don’t see it straight away, but the story is laid out via your exploratory adventure. Narrative bites encased into the the very act of finding tools and unlocking new areas.The problem is, these areas are not signposted all that well early on, and as such, frustration can creep in as the answers remain just out of your grasp. It makes for an unwelcome introduction to a game that eventually delivers once you better understand the inner-workings of it. Forma.8 really doesn’t help itself by having an initially garbled menu system, and by also not providing anything in the way of a tutorial, other than throwing up the relevant button context for the tools you acquire.
It’s truly unfortunate that the game is not more forthcoming with detail in the early sections. Not much more than a gentle guiding hand was needed, as to do more than that would upset the balance into the opposite direction. Some of the first puzzles, and boss fight, feel like they were structured by a particularly belligerent version of The Riddler, offering strange solutions that come across as misguided, rather than clever. Despite this, I’d implore you to persevere with Forma.8 because if you make it through the choppy waters of the game’s beginnings, there’s some rather lovely smooth sailing adventure ahead that almost does enough to scrub that misdemeanor from your mind.
Forma.8’s visuals are genuinely impressive, reminiscent of the pulp sci-fi novel art style found in classic adventure Another World. The use of shadow to create depth and lighting effects is subtle, yet bold, and the scenery that forms the backdrop of the planet is efficient in setting the character of the world you’re traversing without doing anything too blunt to catch your eye.There’s a sense of place on show thanks to this, making this alien world come alive with bountiful alien life and history on display. That the alien life is dangerous, but not necessarily a threat, means you often get the option to just observe or ignore them, also feeds into the feeling of a living world.
This presentation goes a long way to selling you on the story, providing some lovely visual cues. The serenity of the soundtrack also compliments the probe’s almost ethereal movement, as it zips almost silently through the world leaving a small particle trail in its wake. There’s a grace to the way the probe moves that belies the heavy-handed way it actually steers at times. When the action heats up, so too does the music, providing an aural surge of electronica befitting the retro science fiction aesthetic.
Forma.8 takes its time to get going, and in this age of games on tap, that can be a deadly mistake, but I’d implore you to persevere with it. It isn’t all that original in terms of mechanics, but it does tell an interesting, drip-fed story, and its art style is often enchanting enough to distract you from its minor foibles. If two men can create something this intriguing together on the first attempt, then I’m warmly curious about what they might follow it up with.